Real Talk w/CJ: Eric Vento of the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area

Wed, Oct. 23, 2013
3 - 4 P.M.
CJ Courtroom

Just a year after graduating from Sam Houston State University and joining the Houston Police Department, Officer Eric Vento (’10) was assigned to the city’s Gang Task Force working in “hot spot” policing, moving around crime-ridden neighborhoods and attacking gang activities through drug and violent crime arrests.

Now Vento serves on a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) team in both uniform and plainclothes with a mission to disrupt and dismantle drug trafficking organizations.

Officer Vento works with gangs in Houston.
Officer Eric Vento has worked with prison and street gangs in Houston.
Texas is often called the “Third Coast,” behind the East and West Coasts, for gang activity. Gangs are very diverse in the Houston area and include such groups as Gypsies, Asian gangs, Mexican gangs and cartels, which have units that specialize in certain types of crime. One of the biggest gangs in Houston is Tango Blast, which has chapters in Austin, San Antonio, Dallas and Houston. They go by Houstone, D-Town, and Valluco, to name a few. They often use tattoos featuring numbers, letters, city skylines, and symbols to indicate their affiliation.

Gang hand signalsIn schools students often fly their gang affiliations in the music they listen to, the messages they post on the internet and the hand signs they flash, as well as clothing and accessories flown a certain way. Rappers like 50 Cent and Snoop Dog glorify the gang culture with their music and using hand signals such as a “C” and “B,” which stand for the Crips and the Bloods, two main African American gangs. Many fights in school are actually gang initiations, and girls may enter gangs by having sex with members.

A man with gang tattoos all over his body.Vento said it is important to look at many clues to determine if an individual is involved in a gang. For example, rosaries are used in the Catholic faith, but religious paraphernalia is heavily present in the Hispanic gang culture. Drug traffickers use patron saints such as Jesus Malverde and Santa Muerte to protect their drug shipments. Individuals may favor certain colors, clothing or accessories to indicate their gang affiliation. Tattoo, markers, or graffiti are commonly used to display gang affiliation and numbers may stand for letters; for example 12, the first and second letter of the alphabet, may mean Aryan Brotherhood. Area codes, like 713, 281 or 512, also may be present to indicate the city where the gang is active.

Gang graffiti in a neighborhood.Vento said it is important for law enforcement to identify the gangs in their area to better understand the criminal activity that occurs. Graffiti is a great way to identify certain areas where gangs have set up criminal activity or areas they claim as their own.

During his street investigations, Officer Vento is required to meet two of eight criteria to include a person in a database of known gang members, which is shared among departments.

It can be based on tattoos or advertising affiliation on social network sites. It also can be self-admission, affiliation with known gang members or identification as a gang member by a reliable informant.

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